Takagari: The Japanese Art of Falconry

Takagari: What is Falconry?

Falconry, or Takagari in Japanese, is a method of hunting through the use of different birds of prey. As the name suggests, falcons, hawks, and eagles are often used in this hunting method. In many parts of the world, including Japan, falconry (or hawking) is a popular sport and is considered honorable. It was popular in Edo period Japan and was a common pastime for the Samurai. Oftentimes, strong birds which are trained well by falconers are gifted to people of high status like the Royals, Chiefs, and clan heads.

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Since birds were used as a means of hunting, falconry or Takagari, strongly involves taking care of these wild birds. Taking care of these kinds of birds is no small deal and often require training, skill, and knowledge. Mishandling can lead to serious injury and other types of harm.

The History of Takagari in Japan             

It is said that the Takagari could be dated back as far as the 4th century and is often depicted in early artworks, and literature. It was used as a measure of nobility and wealth – primarily because of the expense of keeping and training birds of prey. People who have falcons, hawks, and eagles, in earlier Japan often were landowners and daimyos. What is interesting is that there was a time in Japanese history when gifting Takagari birds (taka) was a popular means of resolving land disputes and ownership.

Takagari for Samurai

Popular samurai clan heads who were falconers of their time were Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. There are historical records that show that these men often take hunting groups of twenty people who would scout the area for wild animals for hunting. These members are known as spotters that help their clan heads catch a considerable game. The Tales of Genji also tell depictions of famous men and women, royals, and warriors enjoying some Takagari.

How to Care for Birds of Prey

Basic Grooming

Simple knowledge for grooming includes trimming of nails and clipping of wing ends. This is mostly for the benefit of the handler than the bird. Since birds of prey are large birds, their long claws can be harmful and painful for their handlers. Furthermore, wing clipping is usually done to prevent these birds from flying long distances – a way to prevent escape.

Birds are also very smart creatures and they are familiar with bathing themselves. A way to let them enjoy some daily bath would be to have a dish or water bowl inside their cages where they could enjoy frolicking in the water. It is also common to see birds pick their feathers for mites and other parasites. This is their way to take care of their feathers and keep their feathers in prime conditions.


The cage of a typical bird of prey is known as a mew. These are cages that have wooden perching equipment which is designed to prevent injury or damage during captivity. It allows a large flight range for exercise and exploration. Perching equipment may be made from wood or metal but not from any material that could damage the bird’s feathers, beak, or claws.

Feeding Ideas

There are a number of questions arising from feeding routines for birds of prey. What should be fed to them? How often should they be fed? Also, what is toxic to these animals? These are essential know-hows when taking care of these birds.

The best rule of thumb is remembering that these birds are predators, which means that they feed on smaller animals. Examples of these would be chicken, eggs, rodents, and other small birds. They can also be fed raw meat from other fowls like turkey. They can also be fed meat from cows and pigs in small portions – as long as they will be able to swallow the portions.

Good nutrition in birds is essential in keeping them healthy. When they are fed the nutrients, minerals, and vitamins they require, they will surely be healthy enough to resist diseases and other complications. They are also expected to live long lives when fed well.  

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Sickness and Treatments

Taking care of Birds of Prey is a definite investment. It requires true passion involving mental, psychological, and emotional commitment. On top of that, maintaining birds of prey definitely does not come cheap. This is why proper care of these birds are essential. Learning how to take care of them also involves to know if they are sick or stressed.

What makes this particularly difficult is the fact that majority of illnesses in birds exhibit the same symptoms. It is also important to note that when these symptoms appear, the bird is usually in a severe condition. Birds are really great at disguising their illnesses because if they show that they are vulnerable, they often become prey in the wild – an easy target for larger predators. This is why a bird suffering from a severe illness.

Despite that, here are a few frequent tell-tale signs to help check if a bird is sick.

1, Sick birds are often very weak. This could be seen when birds are sitting at the bottom of their cages, or hanging by their beaks instead of perching. It is also noticeable that these birds often lose balance or fall off their perch.

2, A significant change in eating and drinking habits like anorexia or vomiting is also a definite sign of disease.

3, When bird droppings have a smell much more foul than normal, it is often a sure sign of disease.

4, If the bird also fails to respond to stimuli, like failure to respond to calls, sound, or movement, they are often very sick.

5, A sudden change in the appearance of the head is also very common. For instance, they beaks may have unusual growths or discoloration. Sometimes, the eyes also show some signs of discharges and excessive sleepiness.

It is important to note that domesticated animals who experience severe stress and strain will often be vulnerable to disease and illnesses. The more stressed they become, the more immunocompromised they are. This is why keeping the birds stress free should be a priority.

Regulations on Falconry in Japan

The onset of the Second World War in Japan was a turning point in the history of takagari. Regulations were set up and the Imperial Household declared a suspension of the personal practice of falconry. Since then, also due to the endangerment of some birds and the expense of keeping them, not many Japanese remain as hawkers. In fact, many traditional methods and techniques have been long lost in history.

There is an international organization responsible for regulating the ethical aspects of falconry not only in Japan but the rest of the world. This is in relation to the on-going threats to the population of falcons, haws, and (especially) eagles.

This particular association, known as the International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey or IAF, is responsible in providing licensing for clubs and enthusiast groups to domesticate and train birds of prey for the purpose of sport and falconry. They are also supposed to register birds as a means of recognition for recording and passport uses (for birds that will be transported from one land to another). They are also responsible for keeping up the conservation efforts of these wild birds.

It is very important to remember that people handling raptors without a permit is punishable by a fine. It is also not allowed to let other individuals handle birds registered to a different handler. It is also important to remember that all birds of prey are protected by law for conservation. Violations can be punished by the law or through fines.

Equipment and Technique needed in Falconry

Having one’s own falconry practice is definitely expensive and it is not going to be simple. In modern times, the most important requirement for any falconer would be a falconry license. Without the license, keeping these birds in captivity is considered against conservation laws and can be punishable by jail time or a fine. Along with the licenses, each bird is usually equipped with an identity band or tag so that when it is lost, then found, they could be easily turned over to authorities and returned to its rightful owner.

An important equipment (or protective gear) would be a hawker’s glove or a gauntlet. Birds of prey are known for their gigantic claws that could rip the skin easily. This typical gear or glove is usually made out of thick, genuine leather that should fit the hand up to the arm. Oftentimes, these birds are equipped with telemetry devices or a tracking device which will help in finding them when lost.

Another interesting equipment many falconers use is known as a Jesse or creance. This is a strip of leather tied to the legs of the bird which is used to train the animal to fly between the perch and the handler’s first. This is usually only used when the bird is still young, to help in avoiding losses in free flight.


These gigantic birds are great hunters especially when they live in the wild. However, captivity can affect the bird’s abilities. Because of this, they need to be reminded of their hunting potential through practice and experience. A hack box or a gigantic box containing a nest serves as a means of comfort for the birds. When they are released in a large piece of land to fly on their own, they usually have a hacking box with them.

This hacking box will be left open for a week or two allowing the birds to do whatever they want in the area. They can climb out of the box, and even start learning to fly short distances. Not long after, they will be learning to fly farther distances, while still returning to the box. Through this, they will learn to self-hunt and feed themselves with assisted feeding from the owners. This allows the birds to lessen their reliance on human resources.

Falconry in Other Parts of the World

There are special regulations and rules that govern falconry in different parts of the world. But this particular sport or hobby is present in almost every country in the globe where birds of prey are in abundance.

Places in Asia where falconry is popular include Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, China, Korean, Philippines, and more. Almost every country in Asia has their own association or club for falconry enthusiasts. However, there are much minimal conservation laws protecting birds of prey in many parts of Asia than their counterparts in Europe and the Americas.

Falconry in Europe and the Americas vary depending on the species of the bird being taken care of. For instance, there are species of eagles, falcons, and hawks which are native to certain states, or countries around Europe and America.

Other Birds of Prey that can be used in Falconry

Different kinds of birds are used in Takagari. There are actually three typical classes to remember. The first class would be the ‘Broadwings’ which include eagles and hawks. Longwing classes are falcons and shortwing classes are the accipiters or true hawks (also known as goshawks). There are some places in the world that uses owls but these are far less common because of their nocturnal habits.

Japanese Organizations and Clubs

In Japan, the number one association dealing with Takagari would be the Japan Falconers Association. This is a school of Japanese falconry that teaches enthusiasts and aspiring falconers about the technique and method in successfully breeding and training Birds of Prey. This particular association is recognized all over the world and is known as the largest falconry association in Japan.

What is interesting is the fact that  Falconry is considered as a ‘Global Intangible Cultural Heritage’ by UNESCO. This means that the value and importance of this sport are elevated not only in Japan but also all over the world. This is why proper care, conservation, and training for falconry birds or raptors is strongly upheld by the Japan Falconers Association.